Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Winner, winner! Chips for dinner?

I won! I won!

I'm going to be that cliched person who says, "I never win anything", which is mostly true for my participation in contests.

I love the Food Network's blog, FN Dish, because I crush on almost all of the chefs who have shows on the Food Network. There are great recipes, tips and tricks, interviews with chefs, and contests! They recently had a contest where all you had to do was comment on "What is your favorite afternoon snack?" (banana and peanut butter)

I commented and I was one of the lucky winners of the prize drawing! Whoot! Thanks to the Food Network and Mediterranean Snacks, I'm the hit of the office with these treats!

My prize pack included a tote bag, one bag of Hummuz chips, two bags of Baked Lentil Chips,
a chip clip, and some sunflower temporary tattoos. Thanks Mediterranean Snacks!

Since this is a food blog and all, I figured I'd review the snacks I won. Please note, that I'm not being paid for this. I just like sharing good news.

Fancy chip chart

As you can see by my very fancy chart, I've got two types of Baked Lentil Chips and one kind of Hummuz chips. The Baked Lentil Chips are a pretty awesome snack. Not only did they taste great, but you can have about 20 of these chips for only 110 calories! They're gluten free, a pretty good source of fiber and protein, and they taste great. They are very light in weight and texture, so I don't know if I'd use them for dipping. These chips taste pretty great on their own.

The Hummuz chips are "lighter than a cracker, sturdier than a chip," so they would probably be a pretty great dipping chip. From reading the ingredients, they're basically hummus in chip form. They have a slightly different aftertaste, but that could just be the roasted red pepper flavor. They are low in fat, are a pretty good source of fiber and protein, and you can have 14 chips for 120 calories.

Both are tasty, but the few people at work and my husband reported that they liked the Baked Lentil Chips better in this totally non-scientific taste test. Out of the three products we got to try, the Parmesan Garlic flavor was the favorite. I'd definitely buy these for a party.

In fact, I really hope that the guys don't eat them all up before I get home from choir practice tonight. My husband and his friends have a weekly card night, so I'll be making a snack for them when I get home and blogging about it later! We're so Wisconsin - they're playing sheepshead, will probably have a few brandy-based drinks, and eat cheesy snacks. Ha!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Meal planning

Meal planning is a big deal. It can guide your shopping list, which coupons you use and which you save, and what you thaw from the freezer. We're usually pretty good about meal planning and since neither of us are real picky eaters, that helps.

There's a big difference in the "his list" and "her list" from before we were married, but we're making it work. For instance, I rarely ate frozen pizza, but he ate it at least two nights a week. I would make one big meal like lasagna, freeze half and still eat the other half for three days (lunch and dinner) straight. Now, a lasagna might last us for three dinners for two people. Needless to say, our grocery bills have gone up.

This week, you can plan on seeing the following recipes:
  • Beef Stroganoff - based on, but not exactly this recipe from Gina at
  • Jalapeño Roll Up appetizers (card night for the guys) - based on this recipe from Sally's blog, My Homemade Life
  • Slow cooker Breakfast Casserole (for tailgating!) - based on this recipe from a Latte with Ott, A
 Now I'm hungry...

Friday, October 26, 2012


We reached 1,000 Twitter followers for work, so our office is having a little Friday Twitter party!

We are so sugared up right now.
Our staff is full of women, so we often have conversations about foods that we're craving. Just the other day, one girl was mentioning about how much she loves "puppy chow". By the end of the day, she also wanted guacamole and like five other things. Anyway, since we were celebrating, I could at least make one of those things!

I made as gluten-free as possible puppy chow. It's not really for dogs, but that's what we call the Chex(R) Muddy Buddies(R) here in Wisconsin!

Here is the recipe that I used:

9 cups Corn Chex (R)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup Skippy Natural peanut butter - Unilever brands are great at telling what has gluten ingredients in them. I aimed for gluten-free because we have some gluten-intolerant people on our staff.
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cups-ish powdered sugar

Measure out the cereal and put in a big bowl. Melt the chocolate, pb and butter in a microwave safe dish. I wouldn't put it on any more than 30 seconds at first and then 10 seconds at a time to get this stuff to a mixable, smooth texture. Pour the chocolaty goodness over the cereal and mix well. It doesn't seem like there's enough, but just keep mixing. Once you've got that well-coated, put it either in a big brown paper bag or two 1-gallon sealable bags. Pour powdered sugar in the bag and seal and shake until everything looks like it's covered well with the sugar.

For more Chex (R) recipes, visit this website.


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Cookie Contest Entry: Cranberry Pecan Swirls

I was never able to wait for a cookie to cool the whole way
before "taste testing".
Now that my cookies have been submitted to the office of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, I feel like I can share my recipe. Not that I think any of you would steal my recipe, but since I can't change what I submitted any more I can give you the best version of this recipe.

(There were three versions total... My husband ate a lot of cookies!)

For a bit of background, I wanted to enter an original recipe in the Localicious category. You can read all about it in my previous post here about my grandma and cookies. If you don't want to look back (although you should because my grandma is awesome), here's the short story version: You must use at least one locally grown or produced ingredient that isn't butter. Since Wisconsin is "The Dairy State", everyone could have counted butter as their local product. My Wisconsin ingredient choices are cranberries and honey. They worked really well together, and I feel like I've got tons of antioxidants flying around my body since I've also eaten a lot of these cookies. Plus, I snacked on cranberries as I was baking.

NOTE: The cookie dough is very firm, so you should probably use a stand mixer if you can. Otherwise, be prepared to invest in a new hand mixer. I burned out TWO of them in three batches! Granted, one of them was really old and wimpy, but it tried it's hardest. See Pulled Pork and Prayers for my hand mixer menace confession.

The recipe that I submitted doesn't have quite so much (barely any) fun tips or pictures, so you're in for a treat! Tips are quoted/indented.

Holiday Cookie Contest – Localicious Category Entry
Cranberry Pecan Swirls – Original Recipe

Dough Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 ½ cup white sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tsp baking powder
3 ½ cups all purpose flour

Filling Ingredients:
2 cups whole Wisconsin cranberries
1 cup crushed pecans
3 tbsp Wisconsin honey (available at State Fair!)
1 tbsp orange zest (about one orange)

In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese with a mixer until fluffy.

Tip: If you need to, you can pop the butter in the microwave for 10 seconds. Make sure the butter doesn't melt otherwise it's too hot for the egg. If it starts cooking the egg, then you get this weird scrambled egg consistency which is gross and you'll have to start over. 
Beat in sugar and then the vanilla and egg. Add baking powder and salt. Mix in flour 1 cup or ½ cup at a time so it doesn’t fly out of the bowl. Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge for at least two hours (overnight is fine).
Tip: I chilled mine overnight because I didn't have enough time to wait for this and keep baking all in one night. If you're doing marathon cookie baking during the day, you can totally wait.
While dough is chilling, crush Wisconsin cranberries and pecans in a food processor or blender until you have a barely-chunky paste. Mix in Wisconsin honey and orange zest. Cover and refrigerate until dough is ready.
Tip: Since honey is kind of a pain in the neck to scoop out without getting all sticky, it's actually easier to use your fingers than a plastic/silicone scraper. Just make sure you washed your hands well!

Using a rolling pin, roll out half of the chilled dough between two sheets of wax paper. Try and keep it in a rectangular shape.
Tip: You still may want to sprinkle some flour on the wax paper so it isn't all sticky. Otherwise, you swear at the dough when it sticks to your rolling pin, and we all know that there's no swearing in the kitchen.
See how the dough stuck to the wax paper on the lower right-hand side? Ugh.
When it is about 1/8-1/4 inch thick, spread half of the filling in a thin layer over the dough. Either using your hands or by pulling up the bottom sheet of wax paper, roll the dough over until you have a long roll of dough. Wrap in wax paper and pinch ends shut. Repeat this process with the other half of the dough and filling. Refrigerate at least one hour for easy cutting.
It's not quite a rectangle, but that's about as close as you need
to get for an even roll. Approx 11" x 14"
Tip: I put the two rolls next to each other and put some plastic wrap around the ends. I set them on a cookie sheet so they wouldn't roll out of the fridge or anything. I've seen some people even put them in two cups open-end to open-end so it's like a big capsule of dough so you don't have a flat side. However, I didn't care too much if one side of the dough was going to be a bit flat. They still taste good!
Preheat oven to 375. Cut chilled roll of dough into slices no thicker than ½ inch. Place on non-stick cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are golden brown and the middle is firm. Makes 3-4 dozen cookies.

Thank you to my test market: Husband, Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Co-Workers and Friends!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pulled Pork and Prayers

This weekend was a blur as most weekends are for the two of us. We generally have packed weekends spent with friends, family and football. This weekend was no different. 

Friday night, I was at book club at church (we read the Kitchen House - one book covered two book clubs!) and my husband was scouting a game for the high school playoffs. After book club, I went home to make the dough and filling for my cookie contest entry. Somehow, I broke two hand mixers in the process. You heard that right, I broke TWO hand mixers.

The dough is kind of tough, so after simply plugging in my hand mixer, I heard a pop and then nothing. Not even a whir. I think it gave up. The second hand mixer was my husbands mixer from before we got married. I have no idea how old this thing is, but it was kind of tiny. It gave a valiant effort until it started smelling like melted plastic and there was smoke. SMOKE! This is when my husband came home and asked if it was really necessary to break small kitchen appliances just so we could go shopping. Then after he stopped laughing over the fact that this was the second mixer I busted in one night, he said, "You've got to put that in the blog!" So, here it is.

Hi, my name is Jen, and I'm a hand mixer menace.

Fortunately, everyone on Facebook was really nice about it and even let me know that you can get those awesome (expensive!) KitchenAid (R) stand mixers for a pretty good deal on their outlet website! If I can't beat the online price with some Black Friday shopping or with coupons and Kohl's cash, then I'm definitely ordering it online. Whoo hoo!

Saturday, after a nice 4-mile run with a good friend, the two of us spent some time doing one last sweep over the house before we had friends over from my college. Although we did not go to the same college, we see at least one football game at each school every year. He is a UW-Whitewater grad (and former nose tackle), and I am a Wisconsin Lutheran College grad. It's nice to live close enough to both schools to see the games!

With 10 adults, two toddlers and two babies, I wanted to have a dinner that was easy and something that everyone would enjoy. That leads to BBQ pulled pork! This is the second easiest recipe in the world thanks to store-bought sauce and a slow cooker. We have all been a part of church potluck dinners in the past, and we're all pretty good cooks, so here's what we ate:

  • BBQ Pulled Pork on bakery rolls
  • Pasta salad with Italian dressing, olives and tomatoes
  • Steakhouse potato salad
  • Chips and dip and salsa
  • Cut veggies
  • Chex (R) Mix - pumpkin and regular
  • Carmelita bars
  • Chocolate chip cookie bars
We had plenty to eat and everyone who wanted them went home with leftovers!

BBQ Pulled Pork in a Slow Cooker
  • 1 3-4 lb. Pork roast (shoulder, butt, whatever is on sale is fine because you will cook it to tender goodness)
  • 1 18 oz. bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce. Our house happens to love Sweet Baby Ray's. My favorites are the Hickory and Brown Sugar or Original recipes.
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 oz. whiskey (I prefer Southern Comfort or Jack Daniels)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Slice the onion and place the pieces at the bottom of the slow cooker. Pour the whiskey (one standard shot glass will do) over the onions. Place the roast (trim off fat) on top of the onions and whiskey. Pour the entire bottle of BBQ sauce over the pork. If you don't like your pulled pork to be very saucy or you want to add more sauce on your own later, then save some of the sauce. Cook on high for 4-6 hours or low for 8-10 hours. When it's done bubbling away, take two forks and shred the meat. Stir and serve!

Unfortunately, the contest entry cookies did not get made yet. I spent Sunday literally hot glue-gunning craft projects for my sister's up coming wedding (yes, two girls getting married in the same year!) or figuratively glued to the TV for the Green Bay Packer game (win!) and the news on the horrible shooting at a Wisconsin Spa which shut down half the city and two hospitals. We said some extra prayers last night for all the victims and their families affected by one man's rage. If you pray, please add them to your list. If you don't, please take a moment to think of them and do something kind for someone today in tribute.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"D'oh!" Dough

I am going to need a second cup of coffee this morning. Why? Because I am terrible at making dough, and I was too ambitious to try three different dough recipes in the past week. I stayed up until 11 p.m. making this new recipe. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF?!

Back a few posts to the Kitchen Mischief Review, I said how you should never swear in the kitchen. I think that foods pick up on your moods and act accordingly. I once made a layer cake (granted, I was doing this WAY too late at night in order to have it done for a friend's birthday party the next day), and the top layer kept sliding off since I kept swearing at it. Now, I'm normally not a potty mouth, but sometimes I slip. And when that happens, all of a sudden your rolling pin slips out of your hands and sends flour across your kitchen floor. Ugh, dough problems.

Anyway, I had the house to myself last night, so I thought I would spend some quality time in the kitchen attempting to make this drool-worthy Butternut Squash Gnocchi from Iowa Girl Eats. My high school friend Kelly suggested that I start reading this blog, and she was right! Kristin from Iowa Girl Eats is adorable and a total kitchen crush. We both like running, cooking, traveling and all sorts of stuff, so it's fun to read! She probably now thinks that I'm obsessed and/or crazy, but no, I'm just a fan. *waves hi to Kristin*

Major props to Kristin who could actually make these lovely hand-rolled gnocchi with what sounds like cool confidence. I'm only going to guess that she did this without getting frustrated at how sticky the dough was. I felt like I could not get enough flour into this dough. Granted, I probably should have measured it out like a good little student instead of eye-balling it. Argh.

I did manage to get a few pictures of the process until my hands became covered in dough while trying to roll them out. I'm going to direct you right to Iowa Girl Eats for the recipe instead of writing down what I did, especially since mine got a little out of control. However, I've got a big ol' bag of these gnocchi in my freezer now, so I hope I didn't botch them. I was too tired when I finished these at 11 p.m. to actually boil some and add the buttery sauce. This will happen soon though, and I'll report back.

Here are the pictures:

Pop the olive oil covered butternut squash in the oven for roasting with a sprinkling of pepper and salt

Food processor full of delicious roasted squash!
I could have stopped right here and eaten the whole thing of butternut squash puree.

Frozen (hopefully) tasty freezer bag of gnocchi.
Note the cooking instructions written on the bag.

TEASER: These are my entry in the newspaper's holiday cookie contest.
Recipe soon to come. Stay posted.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Requested Recipe - Hurry-Up Chicken Pot Pie

Last night I made a hurry-up version of Chicken Pot Pie based on this recipe from Real Simple. I only had a little time between work and hosting book club to run to the grocery store, so I'm calling this a hurry-up version because it has very few ingredients. They called it Chicken and Dumplings, but everyone who ate it last night at book club thought it was more pot-pie-like. Either way it was pretty tasty. When I was describing it to my friend Courtney, she asked me to put it on the blog to share. Here you go!

Sorry I don't have pictures now, but I'll get some later unless the leftovers get eaten!

  • 1  3 1/2- to 4-pound rotisserie chicken
  • 1  10-ounce package frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1  10.75-ounce can condensed cream-of-mushroom soup
  • 1-ish cup milk
  • 1/4  teaspoon salt
  • 1/4  teaspoon black pepper
  • 1  8 or 10-count tube refrigerated biscuits (I used the reduced fat ones)


  1. Heat oven to 400° F and gather a big bowl for mixing and a 13" x 9" baking dish.
  2. Shred the rotisserie chicken with a fork or pick it clean and chop up with a knife. 
  3. Combine the chicken, vegetables, soup, salt, pepper, and 1-ish cup milk in a large bowl and stir until you don't have any lumps of soup left. When I say "1-ish" cups of milk, what I did was fill the soup can with milk so I didn't have to make a measuring cup dirty and give myself more dishes to do.
  4. Transfer the mixture to the oven-safe baking dish, cover with foil, and bake for 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the foil, cover the filling with the biscuits, and bake until the biscuits are golden brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day, which celebrates the founding of the United Nation's global efforts to combat hunger, which began in 1979. 

According to the United States Committee for Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), nearly one in seven people (about 1 billion) suffers from undernourishment. Look at the people around you. That could me one person in your immediate family. The one person could be your friend, co-worker, that guy at the store or a person on the other side of the world. Someone is hungry and does not have the means to reach proper nutrition.

Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin's 2012 hunger study reports that 329,400 people, including 105,400 children and 32,900 seniors, each year are at risk for hunger in Eastern Wisconsin. Considering that Wisconsin only has about 3 million people, that's about 11% of the population, and it only surveyed half of the state! I don't know about you, but I think that's absurd.

Whether you are a recipient of the generosity of a food bank or you donate to one or if you've never even heard of one, please consider doing something to support the fight against hunger in your community or on a global scale. If you're not sure where to start, you can check out the "Act" section of the World Hunger Day blog. There are lots of things you can do to help.

Personally, I'm going to write a few e-mails to my representatives, spread the word to you crushers, and make a donation. How about it? Will you act?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kitchen Mischief review - what actually got done?

Friday night I was all set to get a long list of things done. Well, it didn't get done, or it didn't all get done in one night.

For review, here is the list that was:

Here is my to-do list:
1. Go to grocery (stick to list)
2. Go to Michael's (find coupons)
3. Make dinner and freeze half
4. Make dough and put in fridge
5. Clean bathroom
6. Should probably vacuum too...
7. Make cookie filling and bake.
8. Paint and glue and glitter and then vacuum.
9. Pour glass of wine and fall in heap on couch.

Due to a stop at my parents' house (and getting to eat dinner with them), I got a late start on the list. Over the whole weekend, this is what actually got accomplished:
1. Go to grocery (stuck to the list almost the whole way)
2. Go to Michael's (used coupons, but decided my project was a little over my head, so I bought different supplies which took me a long time to find)
3. Made delicious meals on Saturday and Sunday instead of Friday night (see: free dinner at Mom and Dad's house)
4. Made dough (there was some swearing involved when I dropped a half cup of flour on the floor) and put in fridge.
5. Cleaned bathroom on Sunday (even with the grout brush!)
6. Husband vacuumed for me!
7. Made two kinds of cookie filling. Discovered that the cookie dough had the wrong butter:flour ratio (this is why you should never swear in the kitchen - especially when cooking because the food will take revenge), so I took one of the fillings and made thumbprint cookies instead. Rats. Need to start over, but got to have cookies to share with friends all weekend long!
8. No crafting was accomplished.
9. Drank a way-less-classy beer.
10. Re-made dough thanks to consultation with mom and a trip to the store for floor cleaner and more butter (cleaning up spilled flour can be a messy job). Cleaned floor while new dough was in the fridge.
11. Volunteered at a Haunted House Fundraiser and scared the beejees out of people for four hours on Saturday night.
12. FINALLY got the dough to roll out, filled and back in the fridge.

Helpful tips to conquer a big list:
1. Write it down!
2. Be flexible.
3. When rolling out dough, either use a nice flat surface covered with a dusting of flour or roll dough between two sheets of wax paper. Worked like a charm!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Kitchen Mischief

Tonight my husband is out scouting some more football games, so I have the house to myself. I am planning a few craft projects for Christmas this year, as well as, for my sister's wedding gift. This means that once I'm a good girl and clean the bathroom and finish grocery shopping, cookies and crafting is going to happen!

Here is my to-do list:
1. Go to grocery (stick to list)
2. Go to Michael's (find coupons)
3. Make dinner and freeze half
4. Make dough and put in fridge
5. Clean bathroom
6. Should probably vacuum too...
7. Make cookie filling and bake.
8. Paint and glue and glitter and then vacuum.
9. Pour glass of wine and fall in heap on couch.

Happy Friday!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

French Onion Soup - Finally!

It’s here! It’s finally here! FRENCH ONION SOUP!

Remember when I first wrote about how awesome this soup is and how bad I wanted to try and make it? Here and then again here. Not only is it delicious, it’s super easy. You just have to be patient. 

This posting is going to have a lot of shout outs. First, to the always amazing Julia Child, who has like 5 variations of this soup in her cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. Second, to my friend Kalie, who just got back from France with her mom, and you can read about it here. Third, to Gina at for the recipe that had way less calories than Julia’s. However, I was missing a few ingredients so there are some substitutes/modifications. 

Also, a shout out goes to my husband, who made mushroom and Swiss grilled-cheese sandwiches to eat with the soup. He thinks it’s cute when I just up and down to celebrate every time someone posts a comment on the blog or via twitter @JenMcT8. (Hint, hint…)

French Onion Soup (modified from
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, sliced thin
  • 1 large red onion
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 bay leaf (or two small halves since my jar got dropped on the floor and the insides broke)
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cups white wine (I used a local Wisconsin white wine)
  • 9 cups beef stock (I used half regular and have low-sodium)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 slice of a French Baguette per serving – about 6 total (or more if you want to soak up the broth)
  • 1 slice of Swiss cheese per serving – about 6 total (I could not find the reduced fat kind)
I got to use my new food scale to weigh the onions!
In a large pot, sauté the onions with the butter over medium heat, until the onions are soft and golden, about 20 minutes. Don’t wimp out on the time. Be patient, otherwise your onions will be too crunchy!
Kalie gave me this happy spoon when she visited last time!
Note the lovely color of the onions.
*Tip for slicing onions: if you are prone to tears while cutting onions, run them under cold water after you peel them and cut them in half.

Add flour, mixing well another 2-3 minutes. Add thyme, bay leaf, wine and brandy, and simmer uncovered for 10 more minutes.
See how the onions are soft? This is after I added the brandy, wine and spices.
Add the beef stock, salt & pepper to taste, reduce heat. Cover and simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Again, BE PATIENT! The original recipe that I found from Julia Child suggested a total of 2 ½ hours of cooking time. This is easy at about 1 hour total time. While this is simmering, you should heat up your oven. I wasn’t sure how hot of an oven my bowls could handle, so I only preheated my oven to 400 degrees instead of full broil.

Almost done!
Remove bay leaf (you might need to stir around to find it if it hasn’t floated on top) and ladle 1-1/2 cups soup into oven-proof bowls. You can probably get about 6 servings out of this. Place bowls on a baking sheet. Place sliced toasted bread rounds into each bowl and top bread with cheese. Drizzle a bit of olive oil on top of the cheese. This is when you gratiné the soup by placing it in the oven to broil (if your bowls can handle it) or bake 2 to 3 minutes, until cheese melts.
Mouth watering, huh?


Husband’s Mushroom and Swiss Grilled Cheese
He added some cheddar for kicks.
  • 6 slices whole wheat bread
  • 5 slices of Swiss cheese (two sandwiches are doubled)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 6-8 baby portabella mushrooms, washed and sliced thin

Slather one side of each piece of bread with butter. Make sure and take the butter out of the fridge so it’s not so hard. Place bread, butter-side-down, in a large skillet. Place cheese on bread. Put the sliced mushrooms on the cheese so there’s an even amount on each. Once the edges of the cheese start to melt over the edge of the bread, put the other half of the bread, butter-side-up, on and flip over (which will make it butter-side-down). Cook until bread is lightly browned and the cheese is melty.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Spaghetti Squash with Chunky Tomato Sauce

Good morning crushers,

I bought a spaghetti squash about two weeks ago while they were on sale at the grocery. Since they will be good for up to a month if they are stored in a cool, dry place, I felt no need to rush to bake the squash. Plus, it looked pretty on my table. When you buy a squash, look for a firm one that has a nice consistent buttery yellow color. If it’s squishy, don’t buy it!

Last night, I went to watch my husband coach his freshman football team and they are improving by leaps and bounds. Three wins in a row! They had a rough start, but boy can they tackle now! Cool temperatures are definitely hitting Wisconsin, so I was pretty bundled up as I sat on the sidelines with the parents and friends.

What’s a great dinner to warm you up after sitting out watching a football game? Spaghetti Squash with Chunky Tomato Sauce! Although Emeril Lagasse has a great herbed spaghetti squash recipe, which I highly recommend that you look up, I made this one up on my own.

1 medium to large spaghetti squash
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
4 green onions/scallions, diced – save some for garnish
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp dried basil flakes
1 tsp oregano flakes
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper

I took this picture half way
through baking.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the spaghetti squash (SS) in half lengthwise. This could take some muscle since it’s a hearty vegetable. With a spoon, scoop out the seeds and throw away. Take 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and rub the insides of each half. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste and place in a 13 x 9” pan flesh side down. Take a fork and jab some holes in the peel to let steam escape otherwise you might have an exploding squash. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and flip the halves over so they are flesh side up. Continue baking for another 20 minutes uncovered. This makes them get a golden brown. 

Heating up the onions
and garlic
In the meantime, put the other tablespoon of olive oil and crushed cloves of garlic in a medium sauce pan. Heat the garlic until the oil starts to bubble, but don’t burn it. Add the diced green onions minus what you’re saving for garnish. Allow those to heat up. 

Simmering sauce
Once they’re hot, and your kitchen will smell really good at this point, pour the whole can of diced tomatoes in the pot. Don’t drain them. Add your basil and oregano. Once that heats up, you could put it in a blender to make it smooth or leave it chunky.  Let this simmer until you are done baking the squash.

Here’s the fun part. When the squash has finished baking (it will be tender when you squeeze it), take a fork and shred the insides by dragging the fork along the insides. Be careful not to burn your fingers because the squash will be very hot. The squash should peel right up in strands and look like spaghetti noodles. Scoop up all the insides and place them in a large bowl. Sorry that I didn’t get a picture of this, but I needed two hands and my husband was on the phone with another coach. Pour all of the sauce on top and garnish with some cheese and the leftover onions. Add more cheese if you’d like and enjoy!
I didn't add the cheese yet, but it was delicious!
Serve it as a meal to 2-4 people or as a side dish.

Tomorrow night: ONION SOUP!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tea - and lots of it!

Hi Crushers,

I am sick. Just when I thought I was feeling better - WHAM! - this cold keeps kicking me in the rear. I got it, then my husband got it, and now I'm not sure if he gave it back to me or if it was lying in wait to jump out from behind my tonsils and yell, "Ha ha! Gotcha!"

My cold only stayed away for a little while. I am having trouble hearing out of one ear and I think I have drank my weight in tea. The worst part of having a cold is that my taste buds are wonky. I'm not hungry because everything tastes like cardboard. Even the wonderful pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I made on Saturday. Colds to a food lover are extra awful because you can't enjoy it.

Anyway, this weekend was full of cooking. My sister-in-law, mom and I threw my sister a wedding shower. It was wonderful and girly. My sister-in-law, sister and I aren't the girliest of girls, but we have our moments when nothing but a good ol' tea party complete with brunch and doilies will do! It was all lovely gold and burgundy (her wedding colors). I'm pretty sure she went back to her house last night and just stared at the boxes.

Here was the menu from the shower to tide you over until I can give you fun recipes involving squash and delicious things. (Pictures coming soon)

Drink table:
  • Variety of teas
  • coffee with creamers
  • lemon, mint ice water
Main food table:
  • Quiche - Lorraine, turkey and broccoli, spinach and mushroom, ham and cheese
  • Spinach salad with fresh greens, dried cranberries, strawberry slices, almonds and poppy seed dressing
  • Italian pasta salad - cheese tortellini (chilled), penne (chilled), sliced black olives (drained), diced tomatoes, artichoke hearts (drained), and Italian dressing
  • Fruit salad - melons, pineapple, grapes
  • Cheese-filled croissants and regular ones
Dessert table
  • Raspberry and apricot-filled Danish
  • Almond cookies
  • Shortbread cookies
  • Mini pumpkin muffins
  • Mini red velvet cupcakes
  • Those long rolled wafer cookies filled with chocolate creme 
Doesn't that just make you want to put on a kettle of tea and drink a cup with your pinky in the air?

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Onion Delay

Sadly, French Onion Soup did not happen last night. Fortunately, pot roast with celery, potatoes, carrots and onions did. And I was REALLY thankful it did because I had a packed day and knowing that my slow cooker was bubbling away while I worked was really nice.

Why didn't French Onion Soup happen? Because of Libba Bray. The young adult genre (YA) author came to the Central Milwaukee Public Library to do a reading and book signing and I only found out about it one day in advance. She is awesome! Go. Go Now. Go NOW and read all her books. Start with "A Great and Terrible Beauty" and read that whole series. Her newest book, "Diviners" will be just as fabulously creepy as all of them. Ms. Bray described it is "Avengers meets Flappers". Who doesn't want to read that?

Since there weren't many YA books when I was a teen, I jumped right from my favorite Laura Ingalls Wilder and L.M. Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables) books to whatever they made us read in high school, plus whatever else I could get my hands on through rummage sales, used book stores, regular book stores and the ever wonderful library. I'm sure I read things that were way inappropriate for my age, but it's OK. I turned out alright. I just had to catch up on YA lit during college in between reading journals and class-assigned books.

Anyway, I promise that French Onion Soup and cookies will happen soon.

In the meantime, here's the pot roast recipe (super easy):
1 2-lb or larger pork roast trimmed of fat
2 medium onions quartered or sliced
3-4 carrots peeled and cut into 1-2" chunks
4 red potatoes quartered or halved (depending on the size of the potatoes)
1 packet of Lipton's Onion Soup dry mix or your favorite spice for pork (Penzey's has some great ones)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup water
1 shot brandy (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Put the olive oil in the bottom of the slow cooker. Place the meat in the dish. Sprinkle the meat with the seasoning. Add in all the veggies or any other root veggies that you like. Pour in brandy. Put the lid on and let it cook on low for about 8-10 hours or overnight. (There are no pictures because my husband dug in and started eating before I even got home from the book reading!)

Hint: My mom, who is one of my kitchen crushes, was a home economics teacher among many other things. She always taught her students and children that, "If it grows under ground, you cook it with a cover. If it grows above ground, leave the cover off." I think that's one reason why root veggies like potatoes, onions, and the like work so well in slow cookers.

Enjoy and keep reading for that French Onion Soup!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Cookie Crush - Contest Coming Soon!

The annual Holiday Cookie Contest is coming up in our local newspaper, and I am thinking that this is my year to enter. I've got less than a month to come up with a recipe either adapted or original. I think I want to enter the "Localicious" category where you need to use products from Wisconsin (not counting butter).

I decided to check out what the top Wisconsin crops are to give me some inspiration. Besides dairy products, they are: corn (human food and livestock food), soybeans, potatoes, and cranberries. Apples and cherries are also grown in Wisconsin, but didn't come in at the top. I knew most of these thanks to my years of working at the Wisconsin State Fair, but I don't think I could make a cookie with potatoes. I'm thinking cranberries would be the way to go.

After checking the products list and reading the rules of the contest, my first thought was, "I need to raid Grandma's recipes" for some advice. For about 20 years, since the time I was old enough to be trusted to not lick my fingers between every chocolate-dipped peanut butter truffle I rolled (about 5-years-old) until a few years back when Grandma had a few strokes and lost most of her vision, we have made Christmas cookies at Grandma's house. Grandma is one of my kitchen crushes.

During the Great Depression, my young adult grandmother and her two sisters took jobs to help support their family. My great-grandpa died when the girls were small children (one great aunt was a newborn), so they depended on taking in boarders and other family members to help pay the bills. My Grandma, a college graduate despite financial hardship, became the head telephone operator in  Watertown, located in southern central Wisconsin. Her mother continued to keep house while Grandma and her sisters worked.

In 1942, halfway through World War II, Grandma and Grandpa got married. As a "career woman", Grandma didn't know how to do many common household chores. One family story tells about how as a newlywed, she starched Grandpa's boxer shorts so much that he could barely get them on! So, at 26-years-old, Grandma learned how to cook and bake, and became quite the domestic goddess. She could whip together a dinner party without trouble, and collected cookbooks from around the country until Grandpa claimed she could not possibly fit one more in their house.

Now at 96-years-old, Grandma doesn't cook anymore. Mom makes almost all of their meals. Like I said, Grandma had a number of strokes and has lost her vision almost completely. She still dreams of cooking and often wakes up from her afternoon nap wondering if they are having the lamb chops she baked in her sleep for dinner. Her dreams are so vivid she tells Grandpa (also 96) that she can smell them cooling in the kitchen.

I can describe to her any meal I make by giving her a detailed list of ingredients and description of how I made it. She will close her eyes and mentally walk through every step of the process. She's a tough judge. There's been a few times where she'll ask why I did a certain step or suggest that I maybe not make that meal again. On the plus side, she is spot-on with her suggestions. Grandma even gave me the idea the first meal I made for my husband while we were dating (stuffed pork chops).

Grandma still enjoys the Christmas cookies that we make and has her favorites (meringues and pecan fingers). Most of them are her recipes after all. We've switched baking in her kitchen to Mom's. Although she's not there commanding the kitchen in person, she's there in our minds when we ask, "Will she like this?" or "This is how Grandma did it." We even use her ancient nut chopper and Sunbeam stand mixer. Some things you just don't mess with.

I guess I'll have to make some test cookies up and bring them over for her to see if they get her approval for contest submission!

How about you? Do you have any family favorite cookies? Do you have any tips for submitting recipes for contests?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Onion Goodness

According to the fabulous Julia Child on The French Chef, which I watched just two weeks ago and started this whole onion craze, onion soup is just soup without the crouton and cheese until you gratiné it. Then it becomes the delicious cheese-covered dish that we all recognize. To gratiné something is a French term meaning to cook something au gratin or cook covered with bread crumbs or grated cheese and browned. You have to do that in a broiler.

I was thisclose to buying ramekins at the store last night, but I didn't because I'm fortunate that my sister bought me dishes that are oven safe! I've had these dishes for about 6-7 years now and have never put them in the oven once. First time for everything, right?

When I looked up Julia Child's French Onion Soup, I discovered that it was over 700 calories per serving. Well that just isn't going to happen. I'm right up there in my love for butter with Julia and Paula, but that's a lot of calories in one serving of soup! This lead me to Gina at, who has a great alternative for half the calories. I can't wait to try this, but because of our schedules it won't happen until Thursday at the earliest.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Harvest Moon Inspiration: Fall food and pictures

Happy October everyone! I can't believe that September just flew by, but when I look at my calendar it was a month jam-packed with family, football and fun!

Last Friday, September 29, my husband and I took a hike through Pike Lake State Park since the weather was perfect and the leaves all started to turn gorgeous colors. He timed our hike so that we would be able to get to the tower that overlooks the lake just as the sun was setting. Here are a few pictures from our hike:
Making our way up to the Tower. We saw two white-tail deer as we hiked.
This is Pike Lake as seen from the Tower (facing west - obviously). About 6:24 p.m. CST.
Facing south, you could see beautiful farm land and off in the distance was Holy Hill
(upper left-hand side of the picture).

Blurry close-up of Holy Hill.
We saw the Harvest Moon as we walked back to the parking lot and trail head.

Once we got back in the car, my husband turned to me and said, "Great, now we have time to go watch the Wisconsin vs. Nebraska game! This man thinks of everything! Fortunately, there were a number of fun restaurants to visit on the way back to our house (including 3 with large TVs that all got the channel that the game was on). Since I had a coupon and I was really hungry, I didn't mind. 

While we were there, we ordered soup since soup is a perfect Fall food for a beautiful Fall night. We shared a gigantic bowl of French Onion Soup and it's been all I can think about. Then lo and behold @Foodista on Twitter had onion soup on the newsfeed today. I think this will happen this week.

In the near future, these lovely fall foods are going to happen:

  • Onion Soup (most likely from Julia Child)
  • Zucchini Pasta with Tortellini
  • Pulled Pork in a slow cooker
  • Pot Roast with veggies
  • Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies (If I can find the recipe!)
What are some of your favorite Fall foods?